What to do when the political party you support and spend every waking moment campaigning for adopts a stance which is not only breathtakingly arrogant, but which runs completely contrary to the fundamental principles of democracy and respecting the will of the people?
Well, if you’re the socialist website Left Foot Forward and the case in question is whether or not Britain should hold a referendum on leaving the European Union, you simply convince yourself that the public are dangerous idiots who can’t be trusted to know what’s best for themselves, thus justifying your benevolent left wing dictatorship.
The editors of Left Foot Forward, clearly feeling a little uneasy that their man Ed Miliband is actively campaigning on a platform of denying the British people a say on their future governance, decided to do some unofficial polling to make themselves feel better. And sure enough, it transpires that 63% of their readers are also opposed to letting the British people decide.
But the left need some reasons, however flimsy, to shore up their indefensible position, and Left Foot Forward staff writer Ruby Stockham comes armed with plenty of them:
EU-sceptic Conservatives say that the knife-edge balance of public opinion means it is undemocratic to block a referendum. There are several problems with this argument. The first is that it’s cherry picking: we do not hold referendums on most public issues. There has not been one, for example, on TTIP; there was not one on military intervention in Syria or Libya.
The reason for this is that most of the electorate do not have a deep understanding of the intricacies of these issues; to build up a full picture of the economic, social, or security benefits and disadvantages of both sides would be a full-time job. What the electorate are exposed to is the simplified bias of parties like UKIP or the Eurosceptic press, who present an easily digested one-sided argument. The government cannot decide whether or not something is democratic based on whether or not it suits their aims.
Actually, the reason that EU-sceptic conservatives want a referendum is nothing to do with the fact that the public opinion is on a “knife-edge”. It’s more to do with the fact that power has been continually given away from Westminster to Brussels, from democratic British institutions to their opaque and largely undemocratic EU counterparts, without the British people ever having granted their permission for this to happen.
The 1975 referendum doesn’t count – the British people voted to join what was then known as the European Economic Community because as its name suggested, it was presented as a matter of free trade. Since that time, “common” European policies have sprung up in all manner of areas which impact British life, and which are traditionally fall to the nation state to control. Therefore, to present the question of Britain’s continued membership of the EU as being the same as any run-of-the-mill government decision – like raising taxes or deploying the military – is an entirely misleading comparison.
Stockham then tries to suggest that the British people are too ill-informed to make an educated decision. But this would be the whole point of a referendum campaign – to educate the British people on the pros, cons and detailed implications before letting the people render their judgement. Of course it does not suit Stockham’s purpose for the British people to become more educated on the subject of Europe, because then they would realise the extent to which the common market is just a façade for the far more wide-reaching European political union which was always the end goal.
And it is certainly not the case that the public would be overtly swayed by the “simplified bias of parties like UKIP”, as Ruby Stockham so haughtily suggests. If anything, the simplified bias is all on the pro-EU side. The majority of big businesses (who are naturally risk averse) are for the status quo – funny how the opinion of big business matters to the left on the topic of Europe, but nowhere else – as are all of Britain’s political parties, besides UKIP. In terms of funding and finding suitable mouthpieces for their talking points, the pro-Europeans would have no problems whatsoever – but of course it suits Left Foot Forward’s aims to portray themselves as the underdog.
But Ruby Stockham saves her best argument against holding an EU referendum for last:
Fourthly, the European Union has over 500 million citizens. A UK exit would affect all of them. It is truly undemocratic to allow the UK minority to dictate the future for all EU citizens.
That’s right. According to Left Foot Forward, the British people are not entitled to determine their own future because to hold a referendum would infringe on the rights of people in Lisbon and Warsaw – nearly all of whom would be supremely indifferent in any case – to keep Britain tied up in an unwanted political union.
Truly, no argument is too desperate when it comes to the British political left trying to find excuses to override the will of the people.
To quote a much younger Tony Blair: Weak, weak, weak.